Letters to the Editor


May 2013


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Union Changed My Life


I was in the AB to Mate program and just left school a few weeks ago. Throughout my stay I had known that when I passed the Coast Guard examination, I would share how I became acquainted with SIU and how it changed my life.


Growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., I became a cook at family restaurants and eventually dropped out of high school. I got in with the wrong crowd. I became addicted to drugs and alcohol and continued to do so when I moved to Seward, which is a small town in Alaska, before the turn of the millennium.


The minimal law enforcement and other factors were enough to continue my alcoholism. Most mornings began with booze. Then, in the fall of 2004 I hit a tree while driving my pickup on Salmon Creek Road. After the Seward Providence Hospital determined they did not have the equipment for my situation, I was driven to Anchorage, 120 miles north, where I was unconscious for a month. My mother moved to Alaska to become my guardian in the rehabilitation process, as I could not function on my own or in society because I suffered a head trauma. I had to relearn how to walk, talk, read and write. It took more than six months after the accident to be able to function again.


Since my body had gone through the detox process when I was unconscious, I felt it would not benefit me to start either drinking alcohol or using drugs again. I became affiliated with the Department of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) where I was placed in a kitchen where I realized that being a cook just didn’t bring me the same satisfaction as before my accident. My counselor, Pat, told me many things; one was about his friend who was a seaman. I tried to get accepted into a nonprofit organization called Sealink, based in Juneau, and, with help from DVR, I was on my way.


Sealink put me into the Paul Hall Center and its Lundeberg School of Seamanship in Piney Point, Md. I found it very beneficial for me to be in this military-style environment after what had happened to me less than a year before. It was here at the school in Piney Point that I learned about the SIU. I chose the deck department after phase two of the entry program. Then, after graduating, the first five months was work, work, work; I truly felt at home on the sea. I stayed back in Grand Rapids again for some time between voyages, repaying my debt from the accident and building the down payment on where I would live. Eventually I was able to purchase a residence in Anchorage, which is where I now call home.


The SIU has given me something to look forward to and a goal to work for. Honestly, I have gone back and forth about my decision to become a licensed officer by the U.S. Coast Guard as a merchant mariner, but in the end it was just a matter of knowing I wanted to better myself as an individual – and the SIU has made this all possible. This union has helped me in more ways than one. -- Nicholas Kempker


Active, Retired Mariners Invited to Join AMMV


This is an open letter to all active and retired U.S. Merchant Mariners. As president of the American Merchant Marine Veterans, Inc. (AMMV), I invite you to join our efforts to move past our current World War II membership era. Many of our members believe there is a place for the AMMV beyond our WWII base membership. The AMMV was organized in 1984 by primarily WWII mariners who had become outraged by government denial of their WWII contributions. During the formation the founders included purposes which supported current and future U.S. Merchant Marine issues. Progress has been made and we need to continue these efforts.


To name just a few:


-AMMV members donated significant labor and financial assets to support the WWII legacy ships.


-AMMV chapters and members have gained recognition of U.S. Merchant Marine contributions at the National WWII Memorial and on the local level in many parks and memorials.


-Publicity for historical recognition is being sought at many levels including public functions.


-Historical literature and verbal information has been widely distributed on a national level to Congress, schools, newspapers and elsewhere to perpetuate this public recognition.


-Members support the Jones Act, American-flag fleet, MSC, personnel training and maritime schools.


-AMMV members continue to fight for further recognition of WWII Mariners who were not fully recognized and compensated for their service, i.e. HR-23, the Belated Thank You to the Merchant Mariners of World War II Act.


-Efforts with the Air Force and Congress for other post-WWII veterans’ recognition are ongoing. Applications for Korea and Vietnam are scheduled for submittal around April 2013.


I invite you to be the next generation who will make the AMMV an effective partner with existing maritime organizations in support of U.S. Merchant Mariner recognition and support efforts to make the U.S. Merchant Marine an ongoing effective force in national security, national economic success, and homeland security.


Most of our members now exceed 85 years of age. It will only be a few years before we must close our doors as some WWII organizations have already done. Current membership is about 3,200 – of this about 800 are members at large, with the remainder belonging to 65 chapters located across the country. Currently, the AMMV is a registered 501(c) 19 veterans organization, which could be converted to a 501(c) 3 based on our official veteran membership composition. The plan is to keep the 501(c) 19 veterans organization active as long as we can keep the IRS happy. Recently, we opened full membership to wives and widows plus associate membership to family members, making it possible for families to join and support their mariners.


Sindy Raymond maintains our national corporate office, P.O. Box 186, Ferndale, CA 95536, (707) 786-4554 or saaren@ frontiernet.net. Join us, become active, participate and help move the AMMV into the 21st century. I look forward to welcoming you as a member in the American Merchant Marine Veterans.


Yours in Service,

Morris Harvey, National President

AMMV, Inc.

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